For those of us that can recall this legendary programme of the 1980s, it was part of the staple breakfast diet of Saturday mornings. At the time it was ground breaking: it was live, almost three hours in length, and had a phone in. With baited breath, young viewers would wait for ‘Cheggers’ hosting the ‘Swaperama’ – an outside broadcast that travelled to different parts of the UK where children could swap their belongings with others. Garage sales were popular too – snow globes swapped for space hoppers and metal skates for roller boots; far more efficient in the rolling resistance and energy transfer stakes.
The 1980s also saw the Government putting a computer in every school, GCSE’s introduced, the national curriculum ushered in as a result of The Education Reform Act, and the first teacher supply agency is launched. Nostalgia or nightmares – it probably depends on the generation of the reader, but ultimately all of the educational aforementioned have been swapped, shaped, shelved or strategically developed within the fast moving educational landscape in our schools today. And what of the landscape now? It’s shaped by the teaching profession and a relationship between research and the classroom that is continuing to evolve. It’s not a case of ‘the research shows that.’ It’s a case of ‘what does the evidence suggest?’ ‘How should we do it here?’ and if successful, ‘What will that success look like?’ It’s time to reflect on the school year and evolving classroom practice, triggered by the evidence base and a growing understanding of its application within school classrooms.
Connecting or Completing?
If knowledge isn’t being connected and a piece of work or topic is ‘just being finished’, is it really making a difference? Swap it for a streamlined strategy. Retrieval, interleaving and visual clues alongside text are effective in working the cognitive cogs of the brain and impacting on student performance. ‘Why is Mr Hyde brutal?’ ‘How could this be applied to Macbeth on the battlefield?’ ‘How does this visual of the earth’s crust link to the words molten magma?’ ‘If volcanos evolve in this way, do coral reefs evolve in the same way?’ ‘Look at the word polyp…’
Card sorts, group activites requiring card sets in envelopes to be made, several sets of resources to accomplish one thing, marking each and every piece of work. Swap it for strategies which are a clear winner when planning for progression. Multiple choice self quizzing, quick sixes, dirt marking, feedback which is verbal and ‘live’, peer critiqueing – all examples of strategies which save time whilst tapping into metacognition and self regulation. Areas of learning to re-visit can be ploughed into planning and the harvest reaped as students continue on their learning journeys.
A Tangle of Tactics
You can’t throw everything into a lesson and expect neat and tidy outcomes. Less really is more. What’s the journey of learning in the lesson and what strategies will have the greatest support and impact in arriving at the goal? Time for a swap. If you don’t need groupwork in the lesson, don’t use it. If direct instruction will have the impact you desire, use it. If students verbalising a response will support them in their writing, get them to put down their pens. It’s powerful, personable and purposeful.
‘I just love using the ball that lights up and throwing it towards a student to catch. If they catch it, they answer the question.’ Streamline the strategy and swap it for a much more effective approach. Not all students are good at catching a ball – but they can catch a targeted question and juggle with it when posing time and responding time are not rushed, and responses are surrounded by a climate of high expectations and safety when thinking mistakes are made.
Removed from Research Evidence
Long term, research saves time. It allows for the ‘best bets’ to be considered when an understanding of how students learn is developed. Making the right decisions can be tricky, but grasping cognition and metacognition within a classroom setting makes decisions easier. Busy slides or the main facts? The main facts. Something to simply do or purposefully retrieving knowledge? Retrieving knowledge. Copying words never to be used or active practice vocabulary? Active practice vocabulary. Swap the unknown for the best bets to impact on student learning.